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Comment on this entry

Reaching Heaven: How and Why to Perpetuate the Myth of Free Will


Brad Carmack


Ethical Technology

September 13, 2012

Predictably Irrational. Dan Ariely’s work on “the hidden forces that shape our decisions” captures well the truth of human decision making: “free agents” exercise their agency in ways both (1) predictable and (2) irrational.


...

Complete entry


COMMENTS



Posted by John Niman  on  09/13  at  10:52 AM

I don’t understand your first argument. Assuming a hard-line deterministic stance, including the belief that people don’t really have a choice in their actions, why retain the idea of morality at all? It seems outdated and punitive. Why punish someone for not doing something else when we recognize that it was impossible for them to do anything but what they did? It just seems ... barbaric to me.

On the other hand, if the hard-line determinist stance is right, we don’t have any more choice about the policy we take in light of the recognition that there’s no free will than Jane does in choosing her insurance…

I’m not yet convinced that we don’t have free will, but it does look harder and harder to justify.





Posted by Armand  on  09/13  at  01:24 PM

I disagree with Harris’s Determined/Random dichotomy. The mind is an emergent property and not a physical object, and is therefore not limited by physical laws. I like the analogy ‘the brain is a like a book, and the mind is like a story’. Conscious thought obeys its own rules, which are neither classically determined or quantumly random. I also disagree with the belief that subconscious thought processes are not ‘you’.  I wrote an article on my blog about Free Will a couple of years ago. You can find it at http://sanctumofvespertine.blogspot.ca/2010/04/on-existence-of-free-will-as-it.html





Posted by R Wordsworth Holt  on  09/14  at  04:47 AM

“As we create consciousnesses in the future, we can and should deliberately add ...

*  A block to awareness of the causal factors underlying decisions of the self

would you include children in this set of ‘future consciousnesses’?

Your argument strikes me as analagous to the view that we ought to sustain religious institution and ideology even if we ‘really’ think that it isn’t true.  I’d like to know your thoughts on this, as a mormon transhumanist. 

I try not to think about determinism and freewill too much because it gives me a kind of existential seasickness.  I’d recommend Daniel Dennett’s compatibilist account in his book ‘Freedom Evolves’





Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/14  at  12:02 PM

“From our perspective, the constricted data inputs we sense, combined with the incredible complexity of our world, creates the perception of agency and of a future that we can help create.  Taken together, it appears to us as though we have a conscious self, exercising moral agency in a world where future states are highly unpredictable.”


Complexity is the key word, giving rise to innumerable probabilities, possibilities and chance. Yet I still ask myself why?

OK, you didn’t get it.. let me run that by you again… “yet I still ask myself why?”

This momentary use of mindful reflection, (although driven by determinism ultimately, and determinedly practiced), gives rise to the “macro realisation” of free will and opportunity for selection of options, (yes/no), purely limited in light of current circumstance? But we don’t always use it impulsively, (ie: reflex actions which are non-reflexive by our formal consciousness)?

Is this propensity towards “veto” impulse and compulsion an evolved and “evolutionary” tool for survival? An attribute and property of complex and higher brain functions, and that serves us humans well to ask “why” at every notion, reflect, and learn by mistake? And in turn, leads us to contemplate ontological meaning, existence, causality, past, present and yet onwards and upwards towards the future - potential and possibilities? Do you want a Star Trek future technocracy yes/no?

Free will: the freedom to choose “yes” or “no”, (binary), limited to current conditions and circumstance?

Libet Experiments

“The neurologist Benjamin Libet performed a sequence of remarkable experiments in the early 1980’s that were enthusiastically, if mistakenly, adopted by determinists and compatibilists to show that human free will does not exist.”

http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/libet_experiments.html


Shall I, shan’t I, shall I, shan’t I, shall join the dance?

 





Posted by Ken Ewell  on  09/14  at  03:00 PM

I don’t buy into the illusion bit.  Brain studies can still only show, unsurprisingly, that physical factors in the brain are involved before decision making (where choice is given).  Freewill is already exhausted when the participants in their experiments show up to get hooked up and told on which occasion they should press the button.

Nonetheless, it is a very interesting post and comments.  My sentiments are along the lines quite cogently expressed by CygnusX1 so I shan’t express any more except to thank CygnusX1 for the link and I certainly thank Brad for this articulate article.

I am left wondering though, about the substance of will—when exercised, volition ought not be devoid of content.  Volition is taken to be the ability, power or faculty of using the (substance of the) will to determine an outcome





Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/14  at  08:44 PM

Great article. I think it’s spot on.
@Armand Emergent phenomena still obey physical laws. It’s just that, in doing so, they display new properties that are not predictable merely by consideration of those laws.

By the way, I see one’s choice of morality as an exercise in free will. It may not be predetermined in a Calvinist or Newtonian sense (MWI and chaos theory suggest otherwise), but that doesn’t mean the conscious human mind is the free agent. But just as we can choose to forget (for the purposes of living) that the flow of time is illusory, so we can choose to forget that we are not genuinely free agents,

CygnusX1’s “shall I join the dance?” moments are examples of a system that has reached a fork in the road, and where uncertainty in its future evolution therefore reaches a peak (until the decision has been made). It’s essentially the same as when you drop a ball onto a pointed roof: which way will it go? It doesn’t, of course, mean that the ball is a free agent, only that it happened to reach a fork in the road. “Nudging” is about recognising forks in the road, and focusing one’s attentions there.





Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/16  at  06:45 AM

@ Ken, thanks.. And also @ Armand for his blog post.

Armand sums up the case for moral responsibility succinctly in his blog where he says..

“Human beings clearly have impulse control, otherwise we’d act on every impulse the instant we felt it. A person is thus personally responsible when they fail to exercise impulse control and it leads to negative consequences.”

I think we all have deep and natural understanding of this impulse control, and Libet’s experiments substantiate this evolved “veto” impulse. And if we reason, many other animals/Birds etc must also possess this attribute?

Levels of control and expression of Free will are therefore substantiated here, and thus freedom of will expressed not so much as what we do, but what we refrain from doing?

How we pursue progressive ethics, (define progress?), may be a measure of how we humans contemplate impulse control and exercise mindfulness?

Reflection upon impulsiveness concerning Topless Princess pics and Muhammed mockery?





Posted by Mormontranshumanist  on  12/29  at  07:37 PM

All,

I’m fairly certain I’m the most inconsiderate IEET author to-date. Here it is, practically a quarter after the publish date, and I’m just now responding to comments!

John Niman:
“Why punish someone for not doing something else when we recognize that it was impossible for them to do anything but what they did?”

>Because, from the actor’s perspective, the act was freely chosen. Ignorance of the causal mechanisms that underlie our decisions engenders moral responsibility.

Armand:
Thanks for your comment regarding the mind as an emergent property.

Wordsworth:
“would you include children in this set of ‘future consciousnesses’?”

>I would indeed, though I would not advocate prohibiting a future consciousness from opting in to such awareness.

“Your argument strikes me as analagous to the view that we ought to sustain religious institution and ideology even if we ‘really’ think that it isn’t true.  I’d like to know your thoughts on this, as a mormon transhumanist.”

That’s a hard-hitting question. Reflection on the first 20 years of my own religious life compels me to admit that most of the useful aspects of my religious activity were largely motivated by a belief in the veracity of the Elohimian worldview (i.e. the consensus Mormon view of God, the afterlife, eternal families, final judgment, etc.). 

I think other myths and religious movements (think the Democratic Party, the NRA, or transhumanism) do have the ability to motivate in similar ways, and do not rely upon sustaining ideologies we don’t really think are true.

Hope in possibilities (some would say faith) is sufficient, even when accompanied by an acknowledgment of ignorance (resurrection and eternal families are two examples). I do not think we should sustain as literally true propositions for which good evidence is lacking (such as the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea).

Ken Ewell and CygnusX1 :
Thanks for your thoughts.

Peter Wicks:
I’m looking forward to meeting you in April!

“By the way, I see one’s choice of morality as an exercise in free will. It may not be predetermined in a Calvinist or Newtonian sense (MWI and chaos theory suggest otherwise), but that doesn’t mean the conscious human mind is the free agent. But just as we can choose to forget (for the purposes of living) that the flow of time is illusory, so we can choose to forget that we are not genuinely free agents”

>I agree. Deliberately choosing one’s morality seems to me the most substantive exercise of free will. I also agree that the potential lack of determination of choice does not preclude non-mind agents. Last, I think it is not only feasible but in some cases desirable to forget that we are not genuine free agents.

“It doesn’t, of course, mean that the ball is a free agent, only that it happened to reach a fork in the road. “Nudging” is about recognising forks in the road, and focusing one’s attentions there.”

> Excellent analogy.

CygnusX1, quoting Armand:
“Human beings clearly have impulse control, otherwise we’d act on every impulse the instant we felt it. A person is thus personally responsible when they fail to exercise impulse control and it leads to negative consequences.”

I would counter that the assertion of impulse control is only accurate in a certain construction of “impulse.” Consciously, we generally have the ability to recognize stimuli (e.g. I say to myself, “I feel angry and want to hit Jim back right now”  after Jim punches me) and then choose whether or not to act in harmony with the impulse (in this case, to punch back). On the other hand, to the extent that choices are constitutively physical (I assert that they are), the are bound by causality just as all physical phenomena are. In the sense that impulse equates to the chemical and electrical precursors of decisions, then humans are powerless to resist the endstates (decisions) that flow from beginning states (the milieu of the mind between the time of stimulus and decision).

That being said, the meaning of impulse control likely intended by Armand is, in my view, an essential ingredient for moral behavior.

Closing:
I’ve learned from these comments. Thanks again all for the dialogue!





Posted by Intomorrow  on  12/30  at  05:24 PM

Problem I’ve always had with the religious is their excessive interest in remote causation:
a random example is ‘if we reinstate prayer in public schools’, goes their thinking (and this is to ignore the politics) ‘it will have a ripple effect leading to [fill in the blank].’

A given cause and its effects are magnified out of proportion.






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